An exciting new cancer therapy involves delivering cancer medication directly to the breast tissues through an implant designed for reconstruction after mastectomy. Within the next ten years, breast implants for reconstruction may be treated with a powerfully targeted cancer-fighting medicine. Dr. Judit Puskas, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Akron, Ohio, recently won a large grant from GE Healthcare to further develop this cutting-edge therapy.

The Inspiration Behind The Therapy

Dr. Puskas has personally experienced the trauma of breast cancer and the vicissitudes of reconstruction surgery through her mother-in-law, who survived stage four breast cancer, her close friend, a 30-year breast cancer survivor and one of her colleagues, who tragically died of breast cancer at a young age. “Knowing these women . . . made me understand how a mastectomy can be so traumatic to some that they see no choice but to have a reconstruction,” Puskas said.

In 2000, silicone implants were temporarily banned due to concerns of leakage. Inspired by the experiences of her loved ones, Puskas decided to use her expertise as a material scientist to create a healthier implant for reconstruction. Over the past decade, she has worked with other material scientists and cancer researchers to develop a new polymer for breast implants.

How The Implant Works

The new implant is made of a bio-compatible soft plastic similar to silicone. Unlike silicone, however, the new polymer holds therapeutic drugs that combat infection, scarring and wipe out cancer cells. Doctors will have the ability to tailor the amount of medication in the implant to each patient’s needs through a shot, an innovative ability since cancer drugs are typically dosed according to body weight. This new type of implant will be especially useful in destroying cancer cells that may have been left behind after a mastectomy.

In March 2012, GE’s “Healthymagination Cancer Challenge” recognized Dr. Puskas’ research as one of the top five most promising new ideas in cancer research. The $100,000 in funding will help Dr. Puskas and her team bring the new technology to the market. One of the most exciting aspects of this new product is its ability to pinpoint cancer cells in the breast and surrounding tissue, which will lead to fewer side effects from the medication. Traditional chemotherapy, comparatively, affects the entire body since the medication blindly tries to wipe out cancer cells.

When Will The Implant Be Available?

So far, laboratory trials are producing positive results; and according to Dr. Puskas, a prototype may be available in a few years, with the medicated implants available to patients within ten years.

Choosing to have reconstructive surgery after mastectomy is a highly personal decision. In the U.S., about 80,000 women have breast reconstruction after mastectomy each year, and most of them opt for silicone implants.